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THE GREEK GODS have been spending a lot of time on earth lately, to judge by a spate of recent fiction...

In The Infinities by Man Booker Prize winner John Banville, Greek deities flit about an English manor where the patriarch is dying, playing gleeful and lustful tricks on the inhabitants. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips finds the Olympian deities living in a tumbledown house in modern London. Deus Ex Machina by Maria Aragon likewise has the ancient gods complicating life for a modern Londoner, while Olympic Games by Leslie What finds Zeus and Hera at odds in the 21st century. Steven Sherrill’s The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break finds the mythic man-beast keeping his horns down and trying to get by in a trailer park in North Carolina.

All these novels owe a debt to Thorne Smith’s 1931 classic Night Life of the Gods, which brings mischievous Olympians to Prohibition-era New York; but when asked for his inspiration, Banville mentions Heinrich Von Kleist’s 1807 play Amphitryon, which was in turn inspired by the ancient Roman comedy Amphitryon by Plautus.

Another precursor: Renaissance author Leon Battista Alberti’s Momus, in which the fault-finding god Momus, thrown out of Olympus by Jupiter, foments mischief among the mortals. The gods have been visiting earth for a long, long time...

EDEN PHILLPOTTS was an immensely popular Edwardian author of mysteries and romances who also dabbled in Classical history and myth, producing several novels set in ancient Greece and Rome. Phillpott’s lyrical fantasies of gods, mortals, and mythic creatures are best read, as The Saturday Review observed of Circe’s Island, “on the shores of some sunny lake, or at least, if this is all that is available, in a hammock slung in some retired spot.” Other titles: The Treasures of TyphonThe Girl and the FaunEvanderPan and the Twins
THE MACHT TRILOGY BY Paul Kearney begins with The Ten Thousand, an epic fantasy inspired by Xenophon’s The Persian Expedition (see also The Lost Army by Manfredi). The legendary conflicts of Greece and Persia continue to inspire the subsequent volumes of the trilogy, Corvus and The Kings of Morning.
THE GIFT OF FIRE by Walter Mosley The Titan Prometheus appears in present-day South Central Los Angeles. Published with another Mosley short novel, On the Head of a Pin. BIRDS OF PREY by David Drake Rome, AD 262: As fear reigns in the Eternal City imperial agent Aulus Perennius must fight an inhuman enemy with alien weapons.
QUEEN OF KINGS by Maria Dahvan Headley What if Cleopatra was a vampire? A novel of dark magic, myth, and mystery. THE HITTITE by Ben Bova Sci-fi master Bova recounts the adventures of Lukka, a Hittite warrior whose search for his missing family leads him to the gates of Troy.
THE DESERT OF SOULS by Howard Andrew Jones In 9th-century Baghdad, a Greek spy and a Magi fire wizard steal a tablet that may hold the secrets of the lost city of Ubar. HELL CAN WAIT by Thedore Judson The Roman warrior Marturnus is returned to the world of the living and finds himself in modern-day Colorado.
NOBODY’S PRINCESS by Esther Friesner begins a Young Adult series about the youthful adventures of Helen of Troy. The sequel, Nobody’s Prize, takes Helen on the journey of the Argonauts. ATLANTIS & OTHER PLACES by Harry Turtledove In “Daimon,” Socrates triumphs over the Spartans; in “The Horse of Bronze,” centaurs encounter men; and a naturalist finds the rarest of birds in “Audubon in Atlantis.”
GOD OF WAR by Matthew Stover & Robert E. Vardeman The warrior Kratos struggles to free himself from slavery to the gods of Olympus; a novel based on the bestselling video game. There’s also a graphic novel. STEALING FIRE by Jo Graham The heirs of Alexander the Great resort to magic to claim his legacy; “confirms Graham’s place in the highest ranks of historical fantasists.” (PW)
HAND OF ISIS by Jo Graham The story of Charmian, gifted with oracular powers and fated with her half-sisters Cleopatra and Iras to defend Egypt against the power of Rome. BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham The seeress Gull joins the Trojan warrior Aeneas in his quest to find a new homeland, even when he ventures to the gates of the Underworld.
THE AGE OF ZEUS by James Lovegrove When the Olympians reappear on earth, resistance is futile—until a former London police officer joins a band of guerillas. By the author of The Age of Ra. CHILD OF THE EAGLE by Esther Friesner On the eve of Caesar’s assassination, the conspirator Brutus receives a visit from the goddess Venus. David Drake calls it “a remarkable—and remarkably good—book.”
THE SHATTERED HORSE by S.P. Somtow After the fall of Troy, Hector’s son Astyanax encounters Olympian gods, rituals straight out of Frazer's Golden Bough, and the mummy of Pharoah Akenhaton. THE AQUILIAD by S.P. Somtow 3-volume series with a humorous touch mixes alternate history, time travel, and Ancient Rome: Aquila in the New WorldAquila and the Iron HorseAquila and the Sphinx
INTERREGNUM by S.J.A. Turney Alternate history set in a fictional world inspired by the crumbling later Roman Empire; by the author of Marius’ Mules. DE BELLO LEMURES: The Roman War Against the Zomies of Armorica byLucius Artorius Castus, trans. Thomas Brookside details the zombie war in the time of Commodus.
BRING DOWN THE SUN by Judith Tarr A novel of Myrtale, priestess of the Great Goddess, witch, familiar of serpents — and mother of Alexander the Great. QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS by Judith Tarr Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, encounters Alexander the Great as he sweeps through Persia.
EMPEROR by Stephen Baxter Book One in the Philip K. Dick Award winner’s Time’s Tapestry alternate history series set in ancient Rome and Britain. Followed by Conqueror and Navigator. THE WARRIORS OF POSEIDON SERIES by Alyssa Day When Ven, Poseidon’s warrior, rises from Atlantis, none can conquer him — except perhaps for one human female: Atlantis ArisingAtlantis AwakeningAtlantis UnleashedAtlantis Unmasked
PORIUS by John Cowper Powys Epic set in Roman Wales in 499 AD mixes Christianity and Paganism, metaphysics and myth. “Geysers of words, sometimes poetic and profound...a great, exhilarating work.” (Wall Street Journal) THE FIREBRAND by Marion Zimmer Bradley The author of The Mists of Avalon vividly recounts the story of the Trojan War through the eyes of Kassandra, seeress and princess of Troy.
SOLIDIER OF SIDON by Gene Wolfe continues the story of Latro in the Mist, as the amnesiac, visionary Roman soldier journeys to Egypt. “Brilliantly immerses the reader in the belief systems of the time.” (PW) DEPARTURES by Harry Turtledove 20 tales of “what if?” by the king of alt-history. In “Counting Potsherds,” Persia conquers Greece and Athens is in ruins, but the power of the people can never be completely broken...
ELAK OF ATLANTIS by Henry Kuttner Classic tales of sword and sorcery by the author of The Last Mimzy. Introduction by Joe R. Lansdale. THE ANUBIS MURDERS by E. Gary Gygax A fantastic tale of warring wizards, from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to mist-shrouded medieval England; by the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.
VENUS ENVY by Shannon McKelden Rachel Greer is fed up with love, but the goddess Venus, banished to Earth by Zeus, has other ideas... OLYMPUS by Johns, Grimminger & Guice Graphic novel in which archaeology grad students and ruthless mercenaries, trapped on Mount Olympus, confront the deadliest monsters of Greek myth.
THE KING OF YS by Poul & Karen Anderson In the dying days of the empire, a Roman legion discovers a lost colony of Carthage at the tip of Brittany; omnibus edition collects all four volumes of the classic series. THE SUPERNATURAL & WEIRD FICTION OF D.H. LAWRENCE includes the controversial novelette “The Man Who Died,” about the wanderings of Jesus after not dying on the cross...
DR. WHO: THE STONE ROSE by Jacqueline Raynor The Doctor and Rose travel to ancient Rome and end up in the Colosseum, fighting against the Roman gods themselves. ROMAN DUSK by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro Yarbo sets this novel in the Saint-Germain vampire series in the decadent reign of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus. (A previous novel, Blood Games, was set in the time of Nero.)
ADVENTURES IN UNHISTORY by Avram Davidson “Although the wombat is real and the dragon is not, nobody knows what a wombat looks like and everyone knows what a dragon looks like...” THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES by Paul Levinson In 2042, a newly discovered Socratic dialogue suggests he escaped death. A grad student time-travels to discover the truth.
THE LOST CONTINENT: The Story of Atlantis by C.J. Cutliffe Hyne An ancient manuscript reveals the tale of doomed Atlantis, land of awesome splendors; introduction by Harry Turtledove. THE SEVEN HILLS by John Maddox Roberts What if Carthage was victorious over Rome? A sequel to Hannibal’s Children, by the author of the SPQR mystery series.
TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander Young Jason and his time-traveling cat Gareth ride the whrilwind of history, including a stop in ancient Egypt and Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain.
THE ARKADIANS by Lloyd Alexander A poor scribe and a talking donkey go on a heroic quest in the world of Greek myth. By the author of the Prydain Chronicles.
BLOOD OF THE HEROES by Steve White A time-traveling expedition to ancient Geece uncovers the terrifying secret behind the gods of mythology. FORGE OF THE TITANS by Steve White A telepathic agent uncovers a plot hatched by survivors of Greece’s Heroic Age, and encounters the gods of Olympus themselves.
THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO by Charles G. Finney Bizarre fantasy classic includes creatures from Greek and Roman myth. Illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff. ILIUM by Dan Simmons Epic genre-bender melds Greek myth with far-flung science fiction, as superhuman “gods” recreate the Trojan War. The saga continues in OLYMPOS.
CONQUEROR FANTASTIC edited by Pamelia Sargent Alternate histories of war-makers, including three variations on the exploits of Alexander the Great. THE IMPERIUM GAME by K.D. Wentworth When a game that recreates the Roman Empire exceeds its parameters, chaos and murder result.
A SONG FOR NERO by Thomas Holt Alternate history by a comic master: Nero escapes his untimely death and goes on the lam! PYRAMID SCHEME by Eric Flint & Dave Freer Aliens transport a motley group of moderns to the world of ancient Greek myth, with humorous results. Sequel: Pyramid Power takes the crew to the land of Norse myth.
OLYMPIC GAMES by Leslie What In the 21st century, spoiled Hera yearns for a family, but macho Zeus craves wine, women, & song. A band of mortals must rein in the chaos. KHAI OF KHEM by Brian Lumley Rollicking time-travel adventure takes Khai from ancient Egypt to modern America.
THE MOON RUNNERS by Mary Lennox In 1350 B.C., the warrior princess Atalante, marked for greatness by Artemis, encounters the gods of Olympus and the Underworld. NIGHT OF THE WOLF by Alice Borchardt The sister of Anne Rice writes of the werewolf Maeniel and his encounters with Caesar and Cleopatra.
ROMA ETERNA by Robert Silverberg The sci-fi master imagines a sweeping alternate history of Rome and its enduring empire. UP THE LINE by Robert Silverberg A time-traveler to the Byzantine Empire makes the mistake of falling for his own ancestress; perilous paradoxes ensue!
NEVER GROW OLD by Brian Trent Inspired by the ancient epic, this is the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk; the wildman Enkidu, last of his kind; and a quest for immortality. By the author of Remembering Hypatia. IMAGININGS: After the Myths Went Home ed by Stefan Rudnicki, intro. by Harlan Ellison Authors from Euripides to Robert Silverberg offer visionary permutations of ancient myths.
INVENTING MEMORY by Anne Harris Shula, a slave in ancient Sumeria, and Wendy, a graduate student, appear to be very different women — but are they? CELTIKA by Robert Holdstock The author of Mythago Wood mingles Authurian legend with Greek myth as young Merlin encounters Jason and the Argonauts and the sorceress Medea. Sequel: The Iron Grail.
LEST DARKNESS FALL by L. Sprague de Camp created the alternate history genre with this tale of an academic transported to ancient Rome; with To Bring the Light by David Drake. CLEOPATRA 7.2 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough What if scientists recreated Cleopatra from a piece of her DNA? A sequel to Channeling Cleopatra.

ETRUSCANS by Morgan Llywelyn & Michael Scott An Etuscan girl ravished by a demon gives birth to a hero of superhuman power. What choices will her son Horatius face?

THE TIME-TRAVELLING CAT & THE ROMAN EAGLE by Julia Jarman A boy and his cat visit Roman Britain. A previous volume in this Young Adult series took them to ancient Egypt.

A.D. 62: POMPEII by Rebecca East Via time travel, a 21st century woman becomes the slave of a 1st century Roman family, and creates a vibrant new life for herself in the shadow of Vesuvius. HOUSEHOLD GODS by Judith Tarr & Harry Turtledove follows the fortunes of a modern woman transported to the world of ancient Rome.
WORLDS THAT WEREN’T Four novelettes of alternate history include Harry Turtledove’s “Daimon,” in which Socrates guides Alcibiades to victory over the Spartans. A CHOICE OF DESTINIES by Melissa Scott Alternate history in which Alexander the Great takes his campaign of conquest to Rome and Carthage instead of India.
PHARAOH FANTASTIC ed. by Greenberg & Koren A baker’s dozen of all-new fantasy tales set in Ancient Egypt from scribes including Brendan DuBois, Rosemary Edghill, and Alan Dean Foster. CHEOPS: A CUPBOARD FOR THE SUN by Paul West As the builder of the great pyramids dies, palace intrigues ensue; narrating the novel with wry wit is Osiris, god of the underworld. A work of formidable imagination.
THE WORLD’S DESIRE by H. Rider Haggard & Andrew Lang Towering historical fantasy of Odysseus in Egypt in search of immortal Helen. By the author of She and King Solomons Mines. THE CORN KING AND THE SPRING QUEEN by Naomi Mitchison In the 3rd century B.C., a Scythian witch embarks on an epic quest to Sparta and Egypt; a massive (700-page) work of imagination.
THE VIDESSOS CYCLE by Harry Turtledove begins with The Misplaced Legion, in which battling Romans and Druids find themselves under an alien sun, and continues with An Emperor for the Legion, The Legion of Videssos, Swords of the Legion, and The Tale of Krispos, a thousand-page epic fantasy inspired by the life of the Byzantine emperor Basil I. There’s more Byzantine influence in the subsequent Videssos novels, compiled in The Time of Troubles Book I and Book II.
THE CODEX ALERA SERIES by Jim Butcher “At the start of Butcher’s absorbing fantasy, the first in a new series, the barbarians are at the gates of the land of Alera, which has a distinct flavor of the Roman Empire...Butcher does a thorough job of world building, to say nothing of developing his action scenes with an abundance of convincing detail.” (Publishers Weekly) The series in order: Furies of CalderonAcadem’s FuryCursor’s FuryCaptain’s FuryPrincep’s Fury.
Marion Zimmer Bradley & Diana L. Paxson’s prequels to the bestselling The Mists of Avalon begin in mythic Atlantis and early Roman Britain. In story order: The Fall of AtlantisAncestors of AvalonRavens of AvalonThe Forest HouseLady of AvalonPriestess of Avalon (the story of Helena, mother of Constantine the Great) • Sword of Avalon
THE TROY TRILOGY by David Gemmell “Britain’s King of Heroic Fantasy” (GMI) recounts the epic tale in Lord of the Silver BowTroy: Shield of ThunderTroy: Fall of Kings

Gemmell’s Lion of Macedon and its sequel, Dark Prince, re-imagine the world of Alexander the Great with wizardry and magic.
THE OATH OF EMPIRE series by Thomas Harlan is set in an alternate Roman Empire of 600 A.D. ruled by joint emperors in the East and West; thaumaturges as well as generals and spies take part in an epic war with Persia. The prophet Mohammed and a resurrected Julius Caesar play major roles. The series, in order: The Shadow of AraratThe Gate of FireThe Storm of HeavenThe Dark Lord.
In Goddess of Light, by P.C. Cast, a visit to Caesar’s Palace in Vegas brings Pamela face to face with Artemis and Apollo. In Goddess of Spring, a modern woman trades souls with Persephone, and falls for hunky Hades. Goddess of the Rose is a tale of Beauty and the Minotaur. In Goddess of Love, Venus inspires nerdy Pea to find her inner goddess. Cast’s other romances take place in a realm of centaurs and magic: Divine by Mistake, Divine by Choice, Goddess of the Sea, Elphame’s Choice, Brighid’s Quest, and Divine by Blood.
Thrillers by Valerio Massimo Manfredi In The Tower, a lost city in the desert holds a terrifying secret for all mankind; filmed as Tower of the Firstborn. • In The Oracle, macabre murders in modern Greece are linked to a legendary hero of the Trojan War — a mystery man over 3000 years old. • In Pharaoh, an archaeological find yields a shattering discovey about Moses and the Ark of the Covenant. Click here to see Manfredi’s novels set in the ancient world.
THE KAPHTU TRILOGY by Richard Purtill Magical fantasies inspired by Greek myths, written by a Tolkien & C.S. Lewis scholar. I. THE GOLDEN GRYPHON FEATHER (“a book I wish I’d written,” says C.J. Cherryh); II. THE STOLEN GODDESS, in which a young seafarer braves the Hounds of Hades to search for a kidnapped goddess; and III. THE MIRROR OF HELEN, the tale of Troy replete with gods and magic.
THE TROY GAME series by Sara Douglass begins with HADES’ DAUGHTER, a sweeping historical fantasy ranging from Ariadne and Theseus to the fall of Troy and beyond. The story continues with GODS’ CONCUBINE, DARKWITCH RISING , and DRUID’S SWORD.
Novels by Judith Hand • VOICE OF THE GODDESS is a visionary historical fantasy of love and adventure in the goddess-worshiping culture of ancient Crete. “A remarkable book!” (Diana Gabaldon) • In THE AMAZON AND THE WARRIOR, an Amazon queen stands between her people and Achilles, the mighty Greek warrior who has set his sights on conquering them. (Compare to Judith Tarr’s Queen of the Amazons.)
The Greek Myths Retold by Roberta Gellis hark back to an enchanted era when gods and magicians roamed the earth. In Dazzling Brightness, the love of Hades and Persephone brings Olympus to the brink of disaster. Shimmering Splendor recounts the passion of Eros and Psyche. Enchanted Fire is the tale of Orpheus, Eurydice and the Arognauts. Bull God tells of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. Thrice Bound follows Hekate to the Caves of the Dead.
The BOOK OF THE GODS Series by Fred Saberhagen • The veteran sword & sorcery author refashions the ancient myths, beginning with those of the Greeks and Romans. The series so far, in order: I. The Face of Apollo, II. Ariadne’s Web, III. The Arms of Hercules, IV. God of the Golden Fleece, and V. Gods of Fire and Thunder, which takes the series into the realm of Germanic myth.
The ALTERNATE-ROME TRILOGY by Kirk Mitchell • In a world where Pontius Pilate spared Christ and Rome never fell, the military machine of the empire rolls on, crushing resistance but encountering unexpected opposition — including an overseas encounter with the rival Aztec empire! The series is currently out of print, but used copies can be foujnd at Amazon: I. Procurator, II. The New Barbarians, III. Cry Republic.

The Ancient World Fantasies of
Thomas Burnett Swann

...are out of print, but it’s well worth seeking out used copies. Swann’s brief, lyrical novels about mythic creatures of the forest and wilderness took place in settings across the Ancient World.

Egypt: The Minikins of Yam
Israel: Moondust and How Are the Mighty Fallen (about the love of David and Jonathan)
Greece: Wolfwinter
Crete: the trilogy Cry Silver Bells, The Forest of Forever, and Day of the Minotaur (collected in the hardback omnibus The Minotaur Trilogy)
Etruria: The Weirwoods
The Prehistory of Rome: Queens Walk in the Dusk (about Aeneas of Troy and Queen Dido of Carthage), Green Phoenix (about Aeneas in Italy), and Lady of the Bees (about Romulus and Remus)
Caledonia (ancient Scotland): The Gods Abide (about the last stand of Paganism in the reign of Constantine)

Once upon a 1927, to be precise...H.P. Lovecraft wrote a typical Lovecraftian tale of horror with a very atypical setting: Spain in the time of the late Roman Republic. You can read “The Very Old Folk” in its entirely here. (At right: a scene from the 2001 French short film Le Peuple Ancien, based on Lovecraft’s story.)
For a serious consideration of Ancient World themes and motifs in sci-fi, click here to read Tony Keen’s “The T stands for Tiberius: Models and Methodologies of Classical Reception in Science Fiction.”

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